A Night at the Swiss Embassy in Tokyo

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Tonight I attended a function about “ARK NOVA” which is a project by Mr. Michael Haefiger the Director of the famous Lucerne Festival.

I often wonder how or why I am invited to such events because I feel a little out of place when the others are members of parliament and presidents or board members of huge companies. After all professors are pretty low down on the socio-economic ladder.

As usual I did not have time to check my email (and no assistants or secretaries either) so I didn’t know the time had been changed to 1830 instead of 1800. I was early but actually it was a good chance to talk one on one with Michael Haefiger and the Swiss Ambassador. Mr. Haefiger was one of the first WEF Young Global Leaders.

The Ambassador asked me quite a few questions about what is media design. I tried to explain as well as I could. I find the easiest way to explain these days is to refer to Apple and iPad and give these as examples of merging design and technology.

Next I talked to a politician who I first met a couple of years ago at a Davos meeting. I asked him questions about what are the most important issues LDP should solve if they got into power and he said there were too many. I asked what he thinks about the declining population in Japan and he said it is a very tough question.

We had the presentation by Mr Haefiger next and he showed a video and explained about the ARK NOVA project. The idea is to build an inflatable concert hall which can be set up and moved around Tohoku region. The design is quite spectacular and red.

Next we went to dinner. I was surprised there was only 10 people. I was expecting some stand up function with a lot of people but it was going to be a small sit down dinner.

At the dinner at first the Ambassador asked us to discuss with Mr Haefiger about his project which we did so. I had the feeling that some of the audience felt a concert hall isn’t going to be so helpful at this stage for Tohoku region. They have a point but I could also see the point of Mr Haefiger that art is an intangible value and can have some benefits for the local people.

The most illuminating and exciting part of the function for me was to have a long discussion with the President of Hitachi Americas and a Board Member of Mitsubishi Corporation. I really appreciate their views because they are the ones who really move and shape the economy in Tohoku and all of Japan for that matter. Mitsubishi literally poured millions of dollars into the Tohoku reconstruction and even sent their employees to clean up debris on company time. Hitachi has its roots in Tohoku region and deliberately started up factories to hire local people.

I then had a very long an exciting talk with the President of Hitachi Americas. We talked about how Japan will survive in the post China world. He said quality and new products. Japan must sell it’s quality, including products and services. He gave a good example. When he dry cleans his shirt in Japan it is so well cleaned and folded. He can’t find such service anywhere in the world and at such a cheap price. I also said how a simple thing like going to Macdonalds can be such a great experience in Japan. In USA the birthplace of Macdonalds it can be a rude and bad experience. How do we sell such Japan service around the world. He said to me it is my job to find an answer. Yes, I realized that is what media design should be about. How to sell services and experiences. But he said to me China will soon become sophisticated and also make quality products, he said just look at the porcelain and ceramics in Japan. They came from China. I asked what will Japan do then, and he said find different and new quality products to make.

I asked what advice he had for the young people at Keio and in Japan. He said that as quickly as possible they should learn to understand other people and other people’s views. He said the key skill to learn is reciprocity.

Another interesting meeting was with the Executive Advisor of ANA who is also running the new LCC Peach Airlines. I found out the deal for this new airline was made over a dinner at Davos with a Hong Kong investor. That is really a power dinner.

I left the dinner very enlightened. We can learn so much from these titans of industry. Now on my mind is how media can be used to sell high quality Japanese service around the world.